Vulnerable children and information sharing

Personal information, who can have it, what they can use it for and who they can share it with are contentious issues.

The starting point should generally be that personal information should remain as private as possible. But there need to be exceptions, for the good of individuals and for the greater good.

And the care and protection of vulnerable children is a priority that should override some privacy. Their rights should certainly take precedence over abusive carers and families.

Stacy Kirk writes: About time children’s rights came first

Under proposed new laws, government agencies dealing with a vulnerable child in danger will be able to share information without needing the family’s permission.

It’s about time.

The final report of a panel tasked with overhauling Child, Youth and Family (CYF) was released this week. It delivered on a promise to propose radical change.

A major problem for CYF is that when a vulnerable child is handed to them  by another agency (such as health or justice),  the child often becomes CYF’s responsibility alone.

Not always, but far too often, other agencies will notify CYF if they see an issue and then think: “great, child referred, job done”.

Worse, they won’t notify  CYF due to privacy concerns.

Two key paragraphs buried within a mountain of text signal a major shift toward the presumption of information-sharing when children are at risk.

“If information is to be shared without consent, this should only occur where the practitioner believes that the benefits of information exchange to a child or young person outweighs any potential negative impacts…”

Under this proposal, anyone acting in good faith would be protected from civil, criminal or any professional disciplinary action.

That includes doctors, priests, psychiatrists, social workers, lawyers and all those other professions where client confidentiality is ingrained and sometimes legislated for.

But where those people are dealing with children, and particularly children in danger, they will not only be given the ability to share relevant information without permission, they will be expected to.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, in a Cabinet paper to her ministerial colleagues, said she supported the approach.

Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills, a paediatrician, says it’s an important shift that lowers the threshold for information exchange.

The safety of a child should always trump the privacy of a family that doesn’t always have the best interests of that child at heart.

Rights of children, especially the care and safety of vulnerable children and abused and mistreated children, must be a higher priority than keeping information private.

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3 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  10th April 2016

    The issues will arise where the quality of the information is questionable but the recipients treat it as gospel. The accused must have the right and ability to challenge it and have it tested properly. That means they must know about it.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  10th April 2016

      Yes it’s a basic principle of justice. The information can/should still be provided to CYF though in situations where there appears to be serious harm requiring immediate action, can’t it? As long as the information is also disclosed to the parent/guardian & they must be given a real & proper opportunity to refute it?

      Reply
  2. Kitty Catkin

     /  10th April 2016

    This sort of thing is why everything that the government does can never be made open to everyone (well, one reason among many) in spite of what people like Oliver think. People’s right to privacy must be paramount-with a few exceptions, and those not the general public’s right to be nosey.

    Apart from anything else, imagine how much work it would be to make everything done by the government available.

    Reply

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